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Traveling in South East Asia : a check-lit of your backpack

When traveling for 6 months by train, buses and foot in a tropical country, having a nicely prepared backpack can be the best companion. Here are some tips from my personnal experience.

On a backpacking journey, what to bring :

– A backpack with a good belt to hold the weight on your hips rather than keeping the weight on your back and shoulders.

– If your backpack is under 7 kg or specific sizes requirements of airways companies, you can keep it in the cabin. Airplane tickets are cheaper without luggage on some low cost companies, such as Airasia. But, if you carry a knife (for cutting fruits!), you will need to put some luggage in the plane cargo (checked-in luggage). You can still buy a knife there and offer it when you leave.

– a rain cover or a big plastic bag / trash bag, for protecting your backpack from the rain during rainy season.

– a raincoat for yourself

– a Tupperware / plastic box that doesn’t leek (or a glass pot, but heavier and easier to break). This can be your bowl to eat, to carry food that you prepare or buy, even for durian it’s great. You can save a lot of plastic with this, because buying food at the market means getting 2 or more bags each time, as they pour the food directly in a bag, adding then another bag to hold it.

Reducing plastic waste in South East Asia is very important, as a lot of plastic ends up in rivers, sea, landscape and landfills, if not burned.

– A long lasting straw, that can be made of hard plastic, inox, or bamboo. Because South-east-Asian people love to drink with a straw, and coconut, sugarcane and other drinks sellers will automatically give one to you.

You can make your own bamboo straw. This is my favorite, you can actually make it from any bamboo, even from your own country. It takes 1 minute to “make”, as nature already made it. Choose the size you want, get a secateur and cut on both sides of your straw. The hole is already in it, you may want to clean it with a thin stick, such as a smaller bamboo branch. This bamboo straw can last for years. Just rinse it and/or simply let it dry after use.

– a knife : swiss knife, opinel, army knife, anything for the pocket. Your best friend for fruits, vegetables,…

– optionnal: a peeler : for mangoes, cucumbers, green papaya…

– a spoon

– a small bed sheet or a pareo/sarong. It has multiple use : sleeping in hotels where they don’t provide it (yes it can happen), visiting temples, sitting on the beach, sun protection, unexpected cold weather or air condition bus ride or shopping center.

– A mosquito net. Especially if you don’t like sleeping every night with a fan.

– a smart phone with the free app Maps.me, or maps that you buy, print or draw yourself on paper from the internet. If you have a smart phone, you don’t realy need a guidebook, talking to people (locals and tourists) is also good. Borrowing other people’s guidebook or the one from your guest house (when they have it). I never bought any guidebook, it’s heavy for an information easy to get in other ways.

– the phone number of the local police or any rescue that can help you in case of emergency or other problem. Because you may not have the information at the moment of needing it.

– a string, to hang clothes, your mosquito net,…

– a hook, to hang bags, your hat, when you walk and want to have free hands.

Optional :

– a blender. Quite nice to have ! An arm shaped one, the one without a pot, is lighter and you can simply cut a big plastic bottle when you need to blend something. With that, you can have cheaper smoothies, with more fruits, and being sure that no sugar or condensed milk are added.

– plastic bags or other bags, to save plastic at the market (you have to be fast and bring it out before they put your food in the plastic bag they provide. They might still want to give you « a new one », or say that yours is too small or too big, this is when you can inform them that plastic bags can last 1000 years. Some other sellers are more aware and will even say thank you to you, for their country or for nature, and show to be proud of you.

– a durian bag (because durians will break any plastic bag) or news papers, to slower the destruction of your plastic bag.

– a plate (it’s easier to cut salad in a plate than in a bowl shaped box, unless you can use the lid of the box)

– clothes to swim with : in non touristic places, locals usually swim dressed with clothes such as T-shirts and slim pants or sport wear. In that case, you should do the same. This will also protect you from the sun and eventually from jellyfish. It’s also much better than sunscreen when snorkeling, because sunscreen contributes to kill the corals and other sea life that we actually came to see.

– a hammock. If you wish tou sleep outside, you should have one with a moskito net.

– anamed’s (association for a natural medicine) book : Natural medicine in the tropics. An amazing book about plants and uses, such as cleaning wounds, illnesses, natural toothbrushes,…Covering also common plants such as papaya, garlic, or moringa. See on anamed.net (available in different languages).

Taking care of your belongings:

In very humid places, such as the sea side, you should keep your clothes out of your bag, and even better, hanged in or outside your room, to prevent them from mold.

Some food that you keep in your room can attract ants, rats and other animals. Especially cooked food. Uncut fruits and vegetables are generally okay.

In the countryside, or islands, keeping your belongings tidy, rather than sprayed on the floor, is safer. Because poisonous insects, such as centipede, could hide under any laying piece of cloth or welcoming object.

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